TORONTO - Finally, the NFL’s courtroom squabbles can give way to on-field clashes.
The longest work stoppage in league history is over, 4 1/2 months after the lockout began.
As expected, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players’ Association chief DeMaurice Smith announced on Monday the players had accepted the owners’ latest proposal and there will be labour peace for the next decade.
“Well, it’s been a long time coming and football’s back and that’s the great news for everybody,” Goodell told reporters outside the NFLPA’s headquarters in Washington, adding the two sides have “secured the long-term future of the league.”
“Having a 10-year agreement is extraordinarily great for our game and most importantly, for our fans,” he said.
The NFL will return, having had to cancel just one game — the annual Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.
“We didn’t get everything that either side wanted, but we did arrive at a deal that we think is fair and balanced,” Smith said.
The NFLPA executive board and 32 team representatives voted unanimously to approve a deal the owners had voted 31-0 for (with the Oakland Raiders abstaining citing economic issues with the agreement).
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was widely praised for being a considerable force in getting things wrapped up.
“Several of us have been involved in every step of these negotiations for more than two years,” said NFLPA executive committee member Domonique Foxworth.
“We are confident that the result made possible by the compromises made by both sides is good for the future of our game.”
The previous agreement had expired on March 11. Owners had decided to opt out back in 2008.
What will follow over the next couple of weeks will be a breakneck period filled with a whirlwind of activity. The league released its list of free agents on Monday, players can report for training camp as early as Tuesday for physicals and playbook pickup, though arrivals will be staggered mostly Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with the New York Jets and Houston Texans reporting last, on Sunday.
Months of free agency and trade decisions will be compacted into days. Teams can sign their own rookies and undrafted free agents on Tuesday. They can also make trades and negotiate with other clubs’ free agents, though no deals can officially be signed until Friday evening.
Free agents arriving from other teams will not be allowed to practise until Aug. 4.
The deal must still be ratified by the NFLPA, which will need to recertify first, but those are seen as mere formalities.
Owners will get about 53% of the expected $9 billion US in annual league revenues; the salary cap will be about $120 million per team and there will be a “legacy fund” for retired players.
Insane contracts for unproven rookies will become a thing of the past and most players will become unrestricted free agents after four seasons.
Cancel the Brett Favre watch? His agent, Bus Cooks called reports Favre might return yet again to join the Philadelphia Eagles and former coach Andy Reid “speculation.” Cook said he isn’t aware that Favre wants to come out of retirement again ... The New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins have told their employees that lost wages owing to the lockout will be returned. It will be interesting to see how many other teams follow suit ... According to ESPN ex-Buffalo Bill Willis McGahee will be among the first players cut once teams are allowed to jettison players. The Baltimore Ravens have informed the veteran running back he will be released. He was due to make $6 million ... The Chicago Bears reportedly are interested in New York Jets wide receiver Brad Smith, who hasn’t seen a lot of action, but is quite versatile since he can also be a return man and even an emergency quarterback ... Kansas City will have the right of first refusal on receiver Kevin Curtis, who came back last year from testicular cancer to play in the playoffs against Baltimore. Curtis let the Chiefs match any offer ... Indianapolis won’t have to come up with a backup plan for the Super Bowl after all. The city was mildly worried that a lockout would cancel the big game or move it to Feb. 12 from Feb. 5. The game will be played as originally scheduled ... Canadian doctor Anthony Galea’s assistant, Mary Anne Catalano, has avoided jail time. Catalano was sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation. Galea has been accused of treating professional athletes with performance-enhancing drugs and plead guilty last month of bringing unapproved drugs into the U.S. He is awaiting sentencing ... Catalano had been stopped at the border in Buffalo with some of the drugs and was accused with giving false statements to border officers ... Washington quarterback John Beck is doing all he can to convince the team he should be the Redskins’ starting quarterback. Beck showed up at team headquarters as soon as the lockout ended to try to talk to team brass. According to the Washington Post though, the security guard at the gate didn’t know who Beck was. “I’m OK with that,” Beck said. “I haven’t done anything yet.” ... We’ll find out on Wednesday whether New York Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards will be going to jail as a result of his recent guilty plea to driving while intoxicated. He is due to become a free agent, but would prefer not to re-enact The Longest Yard.
Need to know
Now that a deal is done, here’s a look at what comes next this week for the NFL:
* Tuesday, 10 a.m. ET: Teams can start trading, can sign their draft picks and undrafted rookies and can begin to negotiate with free agents from other teams, but not sign them.
* Thursday, 4:01 p.m. ET: Players can be cut.
* Friday, 6 p.m. ET: Free agent frenzy can begin, as teams can sign all free agents.
These players can report, but can’t practise until Aug. 4.
* Aug. 4, 4:01 p.m. ET: Official start of season. All players can practice, teams must be within salary cap.
Training camp dates
The dates teams must report will be staggered, based on when they play their first preseason games:
* Reporting Wednesday: Arizona, Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Jacksonville, New England, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Diego and Seattle.
* Reporting Thursday: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City, Miami, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Tampa Bay and Washington.
* Reporting Friday: Buffalo, Carolina, Chicago, Cleveland, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Minnesota, New York Giants, St. Louis and Tennessee.
* Reporting Sunday: New York Jets, Houston.